Songs of the South

Maggie by my Side Lyrics-cropped
Lyrics to “Maggie by my Side,” written in C.W. Holbrook’s Civil War diary.

There are lyrics to 17 songs written in C.W. Holbrook’s diary. They were written down by various hands, none of them Holbrook’s. Who all these music lovers were is a mystery, probably one lost to history.

Some of the songs written in the diary were composed long before the Civil War, others in the following decade. The wonderfully titled ballad “I’ll Be No Submissive Wife” was composed by Alexander Lee in antebellum 1838, while “Write A Letter From Home,” by William Shakespeare Hays, was composed in 1867, after the war.

It appears some of the songs were written in the diary during the war, including two versions of “Root Hog or Die,” which was both a popular song and saying of the day.

Root Hog or Die - Louisiana Sign
Husband John and I saw this sign last year in Louisiana.

The catch-phrase “Root Hog or Die” had been around for decades and had to do with self-sufficiency. Both Union and Confederate troops sang the “Root Hog or Die” song.

Southerners were fond of a version that incorporated Abe Lincoln, who was apparently so unpopular with Texans he didn’t even make the ballot for the 1860 presidential election.

Sometimes, the song was customized for a particular unit. A version of “Root Abe or Die” written in the diary and attributed to “Texas Ranger – Dr. Frazier” goes like this:

The Lone Star Defenders a gallant little band
On the tenth of June left their native land
To defend their Country away they all did hie
They go it in the Sun or Shade “Root Hog or die” 

Hurrah boys Hurrah, we Rangers know our rights
And if they trample on our toes we make them see sights 

The Lyon ceased to roar and Siegel on the shy
Big Abe little Abe root Abe or die 

Twas at the town of Dallas, we all did concentrate
And formed into a Regiment within our native State
Then with our brave commander, we bid our friends good-bye
And Started North to make the Dutch “Root Abe or die” 

Twas on the fourth of August we reached McCulluch’s camp
And there we stopped a day and night to trim and light our [illegible]
The Southern boys united here and on each one would cry
To morrow boys we’ll make em get “Root Hog or die” 

Then on the fifth we started to hunt the Lyon’s den
Between our camps and Springfield we thought we’d find his men
But when they learned that Greer and his Rangers were so nigh
The Dutch though it time for them to “Root Hog or die” 

McCulluch pitched his camps about ten miles from town
And there on Wilson’s Creek we secured the country round
But we couldn’t catch them out from town and I’ll tell you the reason why
They knew the Southern boys would make them “Root Hog or die” 

Twas on the tenth of August we heard the Lyon roar
[illegible] among our boys the grape and Shell did pour
[illegible] opted to surprise us and take us on the sly
But he found that Southern boys didnt “Root Hog or die” 

He told us his lovely Soldiers to whip the South they must
But e’er he saw that triumph he had to bite the dust
His brave and noble deeds were done and I’ll tell you the reason why
Because the “Hogs” could’nt “Root” and of course he had to die 

When Woodruff’s well known battery like thunder peels did roar
It made old Siegel tremble for he’d heard its voice before
He heard it down at Carthage and to take it he did try
But he with his brethren had to “Root Hog or die” 

This great Siegel fought us bravely for two long hours or more
And then his fine Artillery had to cease its roar
For when the Rangers charged him he knew he had to fly
And through a field of corn we made him “Root Hog or die” 

Montgomery’s men in Kansas are getting very bold
There was a regiment of them on the field as we have been told
To whip the “Texas Rangers” they were anxious here to try
One third of them was left to “root” and the ballance had to die 

Now if Old Abe’s not satisfied and wants to fight again
All he has to do is muster up his men
To whip Greer with his Rangers he can always get to try
And we’ll show him every time how they have to “Root or die”

You can watch a performance of “Root Hog/Abe or Die” here.

Another song in the diary is “My Love He is a Sailleur Boy.” It starts with:

My love he is a sailleur boy, so gallent a bold
He’s as tall as any a flag-staff. Scarcely nineteen years old
For to cruise around this wild world he has left his own dear
And my heart it is a bursting because he isn’t here

Like “Root Hog or Die,” there were variations of this song, too. “My Love He is a Zou-Zu,” was written for the Zouaves. These units — mostly Union, but some Confederate — were modeled after French North African troops. The men wore flashy uniforms with baggy pants and turbans.

Other songs written in the diary include:

The Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane” (William Shakespeare Hays, 1871). This awesome rendition was performed by “Uncle John” Scruggs, a five-string banjo player who was born a slave. The rare film was shot in Powhatan, Virginia, in 1928.

“Maggie By My Side” (Stephen Foster, 1852). Listen to it here.

“Home and Friends” (Alice Hawthorne, AKA Septimus Winner, 1857)

“Those Dreamy Eyes”

“Near the Banks of that Lone River” (Theod von La Hache and George Pope Morris, 1854)

“Separation” (Thomas Moore, circa 1850)

“We Parted by the River Side” (William Shakespeare Hays, 1866). Listen to it here.

“Just before the Battle, Mother” (George F. Root, circa 1864). Listen to it here.

“The Pirates Serenade” (Alexander Ball/William Kennedy, mid 1860s)

“Annie of the Vale” (similar to version attributed to R.W. Swinney, private, 3rd Georgia Cavalry)

“Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still” (J.E. Carpenter and music by W.T. Wrighton, 1857). Listen to it here.

Mother, is the Battle Over?” (Benedict Roefs, 1862). Listen to it here.

“Texas Ranger”

Well, I hope you enjoyed this look back at 19th-century musical history. Until next time.

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